Friday, January 11, 2013

We have the right to own guns, but in balance with the greater good

After the high profile shootings in the last couple of years that took maybe 200 lives, the United States seems to be getting serious on the issue of gun violence.  The previous post examined the current situation in America.  It found that the outcomes on both sides of the argument contradict the theory.  In various parts of the country attempts have been made to stop the violence by enacting more restrictions some places and less in other places.  Yet the violence grows.

Today, we will discuss the Constitutional right to own a gun.
We do have the freedom to own guns in America, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the Constitution and our own natural rights.  (Yes, there is a phrase in the Second Amendment that uses the term “well regulated.”  But, the position in this blog post is not based on the meaning of “well regulated.”)  The Constitution also protects the freedom of speech, voting and many other freedoms.  Of all the freedoms listed in the Constitution and all the others that are part of our natural rights, only one when abused can have an irreversible outcome, the right to own a gun.  All other rights may at the worse, cause temporary harm to an individual or a community when abused.  If someone exercising their freedom of speech by slandering someone, it doesn’t cause death and the statements can be evaluated in plenty of time for corrective action.  If people vote for someone based on incorrect information, at the very least, the vote can be reversed during the next election.  So it is with every other freedom. 

The right to carry guns, by extension, the right to use the gun, if abused can cause great harm and the extreme possibility of death.  After the harm is done, the individual who lost his or her life is not able to respond.  This means that the right to own guns warrants special consideration when it comes to safeguarding members of the community.
Part of the discussion about the right to own guns should also include the constitutionally acceptable limitations of other rights.  As for the freedom of speech, the individual is not able to use fighting words and can’t use the freedom of speech as a protection for distributing pornography to certain age groups.  Voting, which is part of the original constitutionally mandated right can be limited by age, residence requirements and other limitations.  Why should the right to own a gun not be limited?  As with any other right, reasonable restrictions should be allowed by communities to protect their citizens.

In support of this, I believe the authors of the Constitution had every intention of allowing reasonable restrictions to be enacted for any of the rights.  Consider this, the original Constitution, before the Bill of Rights, guaranteed very few rights.  It certainly didn’t guarantee the freedom of speech and the right of gun ownership.  They had a different idea about rights. They looked for a balance between the community’s responsibility to protect its citizens and the rights of the individual.  The way this balance worked was through voting rights.  Some felt that the most important right “of all that could be listed on a piece of paper” was voting.  This right was important because if elected officials went too far and enacted laws that offended the citizens, with the right to vote, they could be removed from office during the next election.  Then, be replaced with someone that would find a better balance between freedom and safety.  It is this balance they intended future legislatures to follow.          
If the intent is to balance the responsibility of the community with individual rights then legislatures can act to protect people from harm.  But, it must be a compelling reason.  Action should never be taken lightly and must be balanced with the greater good for the community.  Never should action be taken to prevent the wholesale limitation of any right or to restrict the rights of any particular political point of view.     

One last thought on this idea of balancing of the responsibility of the community and individual rights.  The phrase, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is in that order for a reason.  The protection of life is of the first importance, even when weighted against liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Even the phrase that didn’t make it into any of our official documents that substitutes “pursuit of happiness” for property, places property third.  With life, all other rights flow, without, there are no other rights.  When a life is taken, so is all the freedoms that can be listed on a piece of paper are gone.  It is this logic of the balance of rights and safety that must be applied with enacting legislation.
None of the restrictions that are suggested in the next post will ask that people not be able to own guns.  It only suggests reasonable restrictions on them, like the reasonable restrictions on other rights in balance to the degree of harm they can cause by the abuse of a right.

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